Rest & Digest: Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic

In the last video, I was telling you a story from my childhood, how we created fear in order to provoke us to get home as fast as we could.

We created the bum in the woods that provoked us to do our best to get home as fast as possible. We were afraid.


I was explaining that cortisol is the preliminary stress indicator. It is the first thing that happens to send you into a state of alert.

I’ll give you another quick story. Three years or four years ago, I was on the Beltway, a big rainstorm. The rain had subsided. Came over the ridge doing about 50 miles an hour. Suddenly, in front of me, all the traffic is at a dead stop.

I look in front of me and I pump the brakes so I am able to maneuver and manage to not hit the car in front of me. I then look in the rearview mirror and realize there is a guy going about 40 miles an hour right behind me. Boom! 

Now, I was in a state of alertness because of what had happened in front of me, and I was under control. I was very aware of exactly what was. I knew I was going to get hit. As soon as I was hit, the car crumpled. I pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the traffic, got out of the car. I was in tip-top shape except for a minute later, the adrenaline kicked in, and I was shaking like crazy. That’s the purpose of adrenaline.

So the adrenaline is going to kick in. And if you are facing imminent danger, you might have five, 10 or 15 minutes in order to extract yourself from that dangerous situation. That’s where you need the adrenaline.


When you’re pumped and ready to go to do a job, you’re in a high state of alertness and a high state of performance. You go out there, do the sales job and win the client. Then you’ve got to learn how to tone it down. Learn how to relax, how to switch back out of that, what we call, the sympathetic mode, that autonomic nervous system. We switch it back down to the parasympathetic, which is rest and digest.

Here is where people get into a lot of trouble. When you are stressed at your job, the boss is walking into the room, you don’t know what he’s going to say to you, you haven’t met your quota, whatever it is. We live like this most of our lives. From the time we go to the first grade and we’re rushing to eat our cereal and get out the door to grab the bus to get to school, it’s rush, rush, rush. Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, that’s what we do because our lives are conditioned this way in this society.

Medically speaking, most of us Americans are in a state of sympathetic mode 70-80% of the time. Resting and digesting happens 20% of the time when. Realistically we should be about 50/50. You need stress in your life in order to get the work done. That’s a given. However, you’ve got to be able to learn how to turn it down and turn it off.

For example: When you go to sit down for lunch, don’t have your phone there. Don’t text message while you’re eating. Don’t watch TV or try to get your tax documents together while you’re eating lunch. It’s too much stress.

When you’re under stress what happens? Your digestive system shuts down and all of your energy has moved to the extremities because you’re in fight or flight mode. Fight or flight means that you’ve got to get things done, so the digestion can wait.


My advice, is a very simple little trick: When it’s time to eat those three meals, take time for yourself and be present with who you are. Take time to figure out what your purpose is, and what you’re really centered on as far as your goals for the day or for that week. What happiness that you want to deliver Think about the good things of life while you’re eating.

In those last five minutes and even the last hour before you get into bed, remember to calm yourself down. Create a little ritual for yourself that’s going to bring you down to a state of rest. and recuperation and revitalization and refreshment that’s going to prepare your body for the next day.

Rest and digest. Fight or flight. Never the twain shall meet. Stay in the middle.

If you have a question that we have not answered up until now, put the question down below. We will make a video for you.

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